Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syrian Rebel Group Jabhat Al-Nusra Make It Official

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Al Qaeda in Iraq and Syrian Rebel Group Jabhat Al-Nusra Make It Official

Article excerpt

In an announcement that surprised few, Al Qaeda in Iraq has officially incorporated the Syrian militant group Jabhat al-Nusra. With the merger, the two groups will know be known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

News of the merger first appeared yesterday, when Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State in Iraq, the local Al Qaeda affiliate there, released a statement about the joining of forces.

Today Jabhat al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammed al-Jawalani, released a statement saying that he had not been informed of the union prior to Mr. Baghdadi's announcement. Mr. Jawalani added that the group's conduct in Syria would not change, regardless of Mr. Baghdadi's remarks, or Jabhat al-Nusra's pledge of loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, that same day.

Official remarks from either leader are unlikely to have a significant impact on the situation inside Syria or affect the position of international policymakers, who have opposed arming rebel groups like Jabhat al-Nusra because of suspected ties to Al Qaeda. The remarks only confirm what many people have long suspected.

The US State Department classified Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization in December, largely because of its alleged ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq. At the time, US officials already accused the Iraqi organization of controlling Jabhat al-Nusra, saying in an official statement that, "al-Nusrah has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition while it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes."

Jabhat al-Nusra is widely seen as one of the best supplied militant groups fighting on behalf of the Syrian opposition, with much of its support believed to come from the Gulf countries. The group's access to supplies and resources, in addition to its reputation as an honest broker, have helped it become one of the fastest growing opposition groups.

Despite the group's classification as a terrorist organization, it has grown substantially in popularity among Syrians. …

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